An Introvert's One Word Post (363 days late)

Last year was my first year blogging through the New Year and the first time I was exposed to OneWord365. Alece Ronzino came up with the concept of praying for One Word that encapsulates what God might be inviting you into in the year ahead and a whole community has blossomed around it (Claire DeBoer has written a great introduction into the concept over at SheLoves Magazine). 

It seemed like everyone I followed online had a Word and not just any word, mind you, but a Good and Meaningful word.  Not only did they have a word, they were writing about it, blogging about it and what it might mean for the year ahead.

So I started looking for my word in a rather anxious way, as in, "I'd better hurry up and get a #$@^ing word, so I can write about it and get in on the trend."

(ok, so maybe there wasn't any swearing involved, but I did feel a lot of pressure.)

I'd just recently read, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, by Cynthia Bourgeault and was fascinated by her ideas around the embodiment of spirituality, how our outward postures can both reflect and shape our inward experience and expressions of spirituality.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt my word might be "embodied." 

Pretty quickly I had a word or at least the idea of a word, but I was hesitant, it seemed like a big deal - One Word, for the whole year.  What if I messed up?  Was this THE word? How was I to know?  So I tucked it away, in true introvert fashion, and kept on waiting and listening to see if anything else would turn up.

I told a friend about the Word situation over breakfast a few weeks later.  My voice rose with anxiety as I spoke about the stress of not having a Word.  It was all so random and I was only venting, really, but as I spoke, her face lit up and she said, "I know what your word is!"

She had recently watched one of the Nanny McPhee movies where Nanny pins a word on each of the members of a family.  Coming to the mother, Nanny McPhee pins the words, "Leap of Faith" onto her lapel. Watching the movie, my friend thought "That's Kelly!"

Well, I think you have to take a word when it comes at you like that, right?

So there I was, a little way into 2013 with FOUR words: "Embodied" and "Leap of Faith."

In the beginning I thought of them as separate ideas, parallel, but unconnected roads leading into the New Year.

It wasn't until after we sold our house, failed to find a new home to buy and moved into a month-to-month rental that I thought of reading those words all together as one sentence, "Embodied leap of faith."

So that's what we did, looking back, though I wouldn't have called it that at the time - we took an embodied leap of faith.  It's funny, we ended up renting about two blocks from our old  home which may not seem like much of a leap to some, but a leap of faith may not always be accurately measured by visible bounds.  Maybe a better measure might be the stretch and lurch induced in that strange muscle known as the human heart.  

Those four little words, that one act, has shaped so much of my writing over the past year.  I wrote about Hope, and Trust, Waiting and Surrender as we worked our way toward and eventually over the edge of our little nest out into the wide unknown (you can read a number of these posts by clicking HERE).  

Here we are, though, twelve months later, still winding our way through the air, waiting to land, waiting, again, for another Word (or Four).  

Will you participate in OneWord365?  What will your word be?

One of the Cherubim


                                                  Walking with my family,
                                                  I am like one of the
                                                  four living creatures
                                                  "full of eyes
                                                  in front and behind;"
                                                  two pairs at my head,
                                                  two at my waist,
                                                  and two at my knees.

                                                  Together we spot
                                                  the monarch caterpillar
                                                  green and yellow
                                                  stretched-out along
                                                  a blade of grass,
                                                  the cicada half out
                                                  of its shell, suspended
                                                  on the side of a tree

                                                  and, like the angels,
                                                  I am filled with praise.

This is Our Story (Bearing the Light)

This is a reading I wrote for the Christmas Eve service at our church a few years back.  Merry Christmas to you and yours and may you be blessed by the Light that shines!

In the beginning was the Word
     and the word was with God,
          and the word was God.  

Genesis tells us that the first thing God made was light. 
The first thing Jesus – the Word who was with God – made, was light. 

“Let there be light” said the Word. 
     And there was light. 

God saw that the light was good;
     and God separated the light from the darkness. 

“Let us make humans in our image,” said the Word.
And life was brought into being. 
Humans were made in the image of God,
     in the image of light,
     in the image of the life that was the light of all people.

The first thing God made was light,
     but the first thing we chose was darkness.

We chose darkness and it welcomed us,
     with promises to hide our need and nakedness,
          with promises to bring us life.

Our eyes became dim and we learned to flee the light. 

The darkness wrapped us with itself,
     we became prisoners and captives
          and the light that smoldered within us went dark. 

We walked in darkness
     and lived in the land of the shadow of death. 

God looked down and saw our darkness. 
The Word said, “I am the Light of the world.  Let me go to them.”
     And he came. 

The people who lived in the land of deep darkness saw a great light.
     Like the coming of the dawn.
          Like the sun in all its glory. 

And the angels sang, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”

But we didn’t know him for who he was. 
     We knew darkness.  We knew captivity. 
     The light was painful and we clung to the darkness. 

But some remembered how it felt to live in light and love.
     They squinted and stared, even though it caused great pain, 
     even though his light exposed their darkness.

They welcomed the light 
     and the light within them flickered and grew. 

Then they too became light
     and the light spread, 
     like a fire that burns and never goes out. 

The light shines in the darkness 
     and the darkness has not overcome it. 

And now Christ comes 
     in every person who will welcome him, 
     in every one who will bear the light.   

We Are Held in the Dark

". . . and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by . . ."  Exodus 33:22

My twin boys travel the steep wooden stairs, short legs stretching with a two-year-old's unique combination of purpose-filled distraction.  They run through the house on winged feet, blinded with joy and speed.  They climb - oh how they climb - improvising foot-holds as little arms reach and stubby fingers grab for that which is too hot, too fragile, too dangerous for them to have.        

To be two is to live life perpetually on the edge - the fall is nearly inevitable.

Sometimes it's an accident of their own making - the lean that goes too far, the stumble - but other times the world gives way beneath them, that which they trusted is not what it seems and at this their eyes widen, betrayed by unforeseen pain. 

The worst falls are followed by a long, slow intake of air.  Alerted by the sound of their impact, it's my turn to fly, up or down the stairs, across the long pine floor boards in search of the injured one.

The first wail erupts, twisting his little face, causing his eyes to half-shut as all of that breath drawn-in now comes rushing out.  Screaming, he rises and staggers toward me, reaching, half-blind, for comfort.

Looking for wounds - for blood, for bruises or the tell-tale red, puffy skin of a cheek or forehead - I gather him in like a hen with her chicks.  My long arms twine tight knowing by instinct that the press of flesh on flesh will bring consolation.

Then I rise because there's comfort for them still in being lifted, in being held.  Perched on my left arm, short legs wrap around my waist and I reach up instinctively with my right hand, cupping the back of a silken-haired head. 

The wailing continues in my ear now as he leans back time and again to fill his lungs and all of the pain comes pouring out dressed in a vivid cloak of sound.  Finally, when the sound has been let, I gently press his face into the intersection of my neck and shoulder, that dark corner of mother-scented skin.  Holding him there, his face buried, he gentles, calming as the tension eases and he melts into me.

Standing there, swaying, with my head crooked to the side to close him in, my hand still covering the back of his head, I hear the words of an old familiar hymn in a new light,  

                  He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
                  That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
                  He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
                  And covers me there with His hand,
                  And covers me there with His hand.

                                                  (Fanny Crosby)

Then it dawns on me, maybe the darkness I so often feel is not a sign of God's absence, but rather a sign of God's intimate presence.

Maybe when the eye of my spirit grows dim and darkness descends all around, it is simply because I am being held, steadied, in the cleft of the Rock, covered by a soft and sturdy hand.  Breathing in with my eyes shut I can almost feel the press of God-scented skin, the presence of the One who holds, who hides, who covers us all.

This post is linked with #TellHisStory and Imperfect Prose.

If you liked this post, you may also like Remembering (We Are Held) "God waits like a hammock swinging in the breeze, like a mother’s lap that sways full of life and breath and song."         

Breathing (in Advent)

"I told you about this, right?" he asks, "About how I don't breathe?"

He said it casually as we stood together washing and cooking in the kitchen.

"No," I said, with a rueful smile, "you didn't tell me you stopped breathing."

But then I added, with seriousness, "I know."

*   *   *

"I can't feel my face," I'd gasped on the way to the hospital, "it's all numb and tingly."

Our van flew North along the highway and my husband, driving as fast and carefully as he could, kept glancing over to where I sat in the passenger seat, encouraging me to breathe through wave after wave of contractions.

We hadn't practiced breathing this time around, hadn't practiced anything really.  My previous labor lasted a few brief hours and aside from panting to keep from pushing as my friend sped us across town, there hadn't been time for breathing.

This time, though, we were driving to the big city hospital with the level one NICU to deliver twins, one of whom was breech, and we were hoping to get there in time.  Recalling a breathing pattern from a lamaze class years ago, my husband coached me over the miles, though he told me later he was making himself dizzy in the process.   

I was nearing panic as we pulled off the exit ramp into the downtown streets that were mercifully empty.  We parked in the emergency entrance and an angel with a walkie-talkie found a wheel-chair and whisked us away in the freight elevator, directly into the maternity unit.  
As soon as we were assigned a nurse, we explained my tingling face and hands.

"That's because you're not breathing right," she replied.

Before signing off of her shift for the evening, she educated us both in a pattern of "ha"s and "hoos" that would carry us through the rest of labor and delivery.  She spent a total of fifteen minutes with us, but she turned the tide of delivery by helping me figure out how to breathe.  

*   *   *

We're trying to learn to breathe again, my husband and I, here in this season of Advent; here in the waiting and in-between, when each breath matters more than we can tell.  Caught in the middle between two houses for five months now, we've both been holding our breath out of habit as we wait through wave after wave of hope and discouragement.  

Lying in bed at night, side by side, we take deep breaths and the blankets rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. 

Watching the children gathered on the carpet, still and expectant for one brief pause as they wait for an Advent treat, we draw the moment in, through eyes and ears and nostrils, before exhaling into the chaos of wrappers and chocolate that ensues. 

We are learning to breathe as though each breath is a doorway, an invitation and each breath deeply drawn, holds within it the foretaste of that for which we wait.

This post is linked with Playdates With God.

Biding the Shadows of Advent

I am still running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.  So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.
                                                              - Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Speak

My emotions rise as we settle into church and I excuse myself to get a cup of tea.  He catches me as the water pours, hot, into a thin paper cup.  The tea bag leeches black and one innocuous question is enough to break my thin veil of composure. 

I mumble something, voice breaking and the oceans that spring from my eyes speak their own words without words and this man doesn't turn away or try to cover over the awkwardness of the moment, but instead leans in. 

We stand talking in the middle of the refreshments, my friend and I, and it's not the words that matter, but the fact that he doesn't turn from my tears, doesn't deny the reality of the pain I feel over what should be such a simple thing.  When the service breaks, my husband joins us and the pain pours out yet again, welling up around us as we three tread water in its depths.

The prophet Isaiah describes the coming Christ as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" and the tiny babe born on a starry night grew into a man who drew the weak, weary and heavy-laden to himself, attracting those whose lives contained enough tears to wash his very feet.

It should be no wonder then, when in the midst of our waiting, we feel the dark corners of our own hidden grief beginning to come undone.  As we approach the light to come, our sense of the shadows both within and without, deepens.   

The only way I know to move through this pain is to look it in the eye, to drink the cup of sorrow and swallow it down whole or, as my friend would say, "to get down and roll around in the mud with it."  In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says "the only way out is in and through," and here I am taking the dark and long road down and through these oceans depths of grief that are at once both old and new.

But it is here in the darkness, also, that voice of the angel comes, always - "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Here in deep shadows, spread wide like the velvety night sky, this is where the angel greets us who dare to tarry awhile, this is where the Christ child is born.

(For another reflection on the presence of grief during Advent, visit Laura Boggess' post at The High Calling  The Bread of Tears, "The season is bittersweet for some. Hearts are cognizant of empty places: loved ones departed, emotional estrangement, abandoned dreams, disappointments, and fears. Absence creates a presence that we carry with us as we rush to and fro during Advent. And we ask ourselves, how can a season of such joy also spark this kindred sorrow?")

Scattered Gifts (Exchanging Memos With God)

A few weeks ago a dear friend gave us a computer - out of the blue.

We really needed a second computer, but couldn't begin to figure out how we could buy one. Then, BAM, just like that, before we'd hardly wrapped our minds around it, the problem was solved.

A few days later, another couple we barely know stopped by with a brand new vacuum.

Ours was broken and we'd put the word out that we were in the market for a used or hand-me-down machine.  But here it was, NEW, in the box, with a bow on top.  I sat the box in the living room and watched the children dance around it in excitement when they got home from school.

Then, when I was off writing at Panera on a Saturday afternoon, my husband found a drafting table set out for free on the curb, just down the road from our house.  Exactly the kind of table I've always loved, exactly the kind of desk I've always wanted.  

This was shortly after we put in the verbal offer on the farm house of our dreams - the "long-shot" offer that fell short of the negotiating table and we were discouraged.

"Do you realize," I said to my husband one evening, "that in just a little over a week we've been given a computer, a vacuum, and a table?  It's crazy, isn't it?"

"You're right," he said, "I hadn't really thought about it that way."

"I can't feel it, though," I added, "It's like, I should feel something, but I can't."

It was right around the week of Thanksgiving and I was writing and speaking about gratitude, but I couldn't feel it, because all I wanted to do was send God a little memo that said something like:

                              Dear God:
                              Thanks for the computer, and vacuum and table,
                              but what we really need is a house.
                              Maybe you could just try to focus on that??

My guess is that God gets quite a few letters like that.  Maybe you've sent one too?

I didn't mean to be ungrateful, but my eyes were stuck somewhere in the distance, scanning the horizon, so much so that I almost missed the gifts of Presence scattered at my feet.

Because what I want, truly, is to know that God is with us.  I can wait for a house, if I can be certain that God is in the waiting too.

Shifting my focus, I saw those gifts - the computer, the vacuum, the table - as so many memos, straight from the hand of God and they read something like this:

                               Dear Kelly:
                               I see you.
                               I know your needs.
                               I love you.
                               And, yo, chill about this house deal,
                               I'm workin' on it.

Waiting Together (Cut Flowers For Advent)

I finally made it up to the attic this morning to dig out my advent books, among them, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a book of essays and sermons by a wide variety of authors.  My on-going favorite is one by Henri Nouwen entitled, "Waiting for God."

Nouwen skillfully explores the fear and anxiety of waiting while highlighting the fact that all of the characters in Luke's gospel are waiting for something that has already been promised to them.  The spiritual life, according to Nouwen, is "one in which we wait," but our waiting is done best when we wait together. 

Observing the interaction between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, Nouwen writes,

          These two women created space for each other to wait.  They affirmed
          for each other that something  was happening that was worth waiting for.

Then he adds,
          . . . The whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space
          in which we wait for that which we have already seen.  Christian community
          is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously,
          so that it can grow and become stronger among us.  In this way we can live
          in courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in
          this world without ebbing seduced constantly by despair, lostness and darkness.
          That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see
          hatred all around us.  That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even
          when we see death and destruction and agony all around us.  

          We say it together. 
          Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment -
          that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community and the Christian life. 

What can I say but that I'm so grateful to be able to share some links with you, to help you gather together with those who are making spaces all across the web where we can wait together.  Take a few minutes to check them out.  Maybe you will find a new friend, a companion for the journey, or maybe even just a word to carry you like a light through the season ahead.  

Diana Trautwein, a retired pastor and active Spiritual Director is writing daily reflections on scripture over at her blog, Just Wondering. Diana's bold voice and captivating use of images will draw you in. 

John D. Blase is a poet, editor and former pastor who writes at The Beautiful Due.  His poem, Walk Straight, has been my theme this advent season and he just posted a new reflection on the song, Silent Night, that will simply knock your socks off. 

John Blase is joining with Winn Collier to write weekly reflections on a lectionary reading for advent every Monday.  Winn's is one of my never-miss blogs, one I'm sure to click on, and I can't think of anyone better gifted to explore the mingling of human and divine made evident in the stories of the nativity.

I've also been following Christie Purifoy's blog There Is A River, where she's offering brief daily poems, prayers and reflections.  

Are you or someone you know writing your way through the season?  I'd love to hear about it, feel free to add your own favorite links in the comments section below.  Enjoy!

We Are In the Ninth Month and Groaning

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait . . .  Romans 8:22-25

Anyone who's been there knows how it is, trying to sleep in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Laying half upright, supported with an odd assortment of pillows, you drift off for a few moments or hours, only to be awakened by a pressing bladder.  Returning to bed, you prop on one side, struggling to breathe and arranging the pillows once again.

But your hip is sore by now and, groaning, you launch yourself upright, faced with the question of how to roll over.

Through all of this, your soundly sleeping husband snores.

When I was pregnant with twins, we joked about installing one of those cranes they use for transporting large marine mammals in the bedroom ceiling to use for turning me in the night.  Instead, I learned to use my husband's back for leverage.  Wrapping my arm around him, I shifted my bottom to the side and laid that giant belly gently down, emitting a weary groan with every movement.

We laughed about it during the day, but at night, I meant those groans with every ounce of breath I could muster and they helped me move, lifted me, and carried me through until the next time I woke to waddle to the toilet or ease another aching hip.

We had a pre-term labor scare at thirty-four weeks with the twins and from then on I was sure those babies were going to come early.  This only made the waiting longer as we passed thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven weeks.  By the end, I could hardly walk more than a few steps at a time and I took to riding the motorized shopping carts on rare outings, my legs spread wide to leave room for that belly full of babies between my lap and the steering wheel.  

I was desperate.  I was done with waiting.  I was groaning.

I don't know about you, but this seems to be about the way I come into Advent each year - tired, weary and filled with longing as the long, dark days press in.

Maybe this is part of the reason I love the melancholy songs of Christmas best - the ones in minor key that beg for the coming of Emmanuel.  Something in these songs, it seems, recognizes that underneath the shining lights and tinsel, the world itself, all of creation, is indeed groaning as it turns in the night, waiting for the gift that is to come.

This post is linked with Playdates With God.

What is Being Born (Nothing is Wasted)

Kneeling on the dirty living room rug, the twins swarm and climb on my back, my legs, my shoulders.

With focused determination I slowly piece together a ridiculously complicated floor puzzle.  Over time a large smiling farmer perches happily atop a John Deere tractor.  The man and the words, "John Deere" are easy, but the rest of the pieces - black and yellow tires and the plain green body cut in strange shapes and sizes - have me turning piece after piece in circles.  I try and try for a fit as little hands and feet dislodge whole sections mere seconds after their completion.

It's sheer chaos and the stress of focusing in the midst of it all rivals the near panic attack I have every time I try to put together our ridiculously complicated tree-house tent.

As a mother of young children, I've learned to focus like a ninja, because it's the only way I can get anything done.  There are always two or three people talking at me, no matter what I'm doing.  Raising four children isn't like walking and chewing gum at the same time, it's more like walking and talking and building a miniature model of the International Space Station while humming a lullaby and taming wild shrews.

I am this mama on the floor doing the impossible day after day after day.  

Kneeling there I feel the intensity of my focus, the intensity of this skill that's being tested and forged every day and I wonder, what's this capacity that's being born in me, even here, even now?

*   *   *

Later in the week I sit typing at the computer, writing a sermon for the first time since the twins were born.  I've preached in the years since their birth, but without manuscript, speaking from notes scribbled in colored crayon and marker on (I kid you not) pieces of paper towel scrounged from the bathroom at Panera.

My preaching style has relaxed, you could say, since my life exploded, but for some reason I'm sitting, typing, word for word, what I already know I want to say.

It's a familiar passage, one I explored with my students every semester of every year I taught and I already know what God is asking me to do, but I'm scared.

What I believe is that I simply need to offer the passage and the people in it as a space where the congregation can enter in and encounter Christ, everyone receiving something different as we all gather together around the table of God's word.

The passage tells the story of Jesus' dinner at Simon the Pharisee's house and, for years, I've had the idea of telling that story while setting a table.  But setting a table as I speak, laying a table cloth, plates, napkins and cups, means no notes, no manuscript, just sheer presence as we all enter, together, into the meal.

I know that I know the story, but I'm worried about my ability to focus, to tend to so many things - the sermon, the spirit, the table - while speaking.

Then God stirs within me and I see myself kneeling on the floor with that ridiculously complicated puzzle in the middle of all of that Crazy and I hear my question anew even as I know the answer.

*   *   *

"What capacity is being born in me, even here, even now?"

Advent is a season that calls us to ponder, to wait and wonder, to listen for the stirrings of what new thing God might be doing in and through us.

God is always at work, preparing in us that which will be needed. All of the moments of time that seem wasted - the detours, distractions, the many, many pieces of the puzzle that simply seem not to fit - none of these are without purpose, none without reason, none wasted.  

My question was one born of frustration and curiosity, but to even ask the question, to wonder and wait for the answer to be revealed, is an act of faith.  Because our inability to see or understand what God is doing, doesn't mean that God isn't actively bringing into being what's most needed in us and in the world.  

So let me ask you, as we enter the season of Advent together . . .

What capacity, what new thing, is being born in YOU, even here, even now?

Praying Mantises (for the Wonders of the World)

A few weeks before the snow started to fly my son found a large, brown Praying Mantis standing on the flecked and peeling paint of our back stairs. She was a good six to eight inches long. The kids captured her by walking her gently into a large see-through salad container. We stared at her, eye to eye, as she investigated captivity, her eyes and rotating head conveying keen awareness.
Later, the kids tell me, they fed her a pincher beetle. Grabbing it with both claws, she pulled off the head and tucked it away under her arm while eating the body.  Finishing with the head, she saved the best for last. 

They let her go to lay her eggs, to bestow one last gift upon the earth before surrendering the full weight of her being, giving-in to the dark winter’s night. 
*   *   * 
This past summer we stumbled across a Praying Mantis standing still in the middle of a spacious, green field of grass.  Returning from a walk in the cool, dark woods, the six of us gathered round, casting shadows and the Praying Mantis tilted its head to meet our movements, watching us watch him. 
Then we stepped too close and it rose, this large insect eight inches long rose straight up into the air like a helicopter.   He was fifteen feet high in a matter of seconds and took off across the field to land some thirty feet away in a patch of wildflowers.   Awestruck, we continued our way across the wide, open grass. 
*   *   *

The Mantises are gone now, having fallen back to the earth like the leaves and grasses, the things too fragile for winter's sharp turn.  But I can see them still, the one that rose so suddenly, unhindered, like a prayer launched and the mother-bug plucking and tucking that tender morsel under arm.  For these and so many other wonders of the natural world, I am thankful.     

Growing New Leaves in Fall (We Are Practicing)

“…I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”  ~II Corinthians 6:11-13, MSG

*   *   *

[Often, walking through the fields] I would see a man walking his four Kerry Blue Terriers.  These were amazing dogs.  Bounding energy, elastic grace, and electric speed, they coursed and leapt through open fields.  It was invigorating just to watch them.  Three of the four dogs did this; the fourth stayed behind and off to the side of its owner, and ran in tight circles.  I could never understand why it did this; it had all the room in the world to leap and bound. One day I was bold enough to ask the owner.

“Why does your dog do that? Why does it run in circles instead of running with the others?” He explained that before he had the dog, it had lived practically all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in circles.  For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles.  So instead of bounding through open fields that surrounded it, it ran in circles."

This is a powerful metaphor of the human condition.  For indeed we are free …. but the memory of the cage remains.  And so we run in tight, little circles even while immersed in open fields of grace and freedom’.   - Martin Laird in Into the Silent Land

*   *   *
"I'm not thankful for very many things," he said.

Leaving my son's room late one night - too late as always - I mentioned the Thanksgiving chain we had yet to start and my son said he didn't want to do one this year.  When I asked him why, he told me he just wasn't very thankful and I replied, "Well, that's why we need to do it."

This is my boy who always wants More and who, every time he gets One Thing, notices the lack of Another.  But he's also the one who time and time again names that which I would rather keep hidden, whose voice so often puts into words the things we all feel, but dare not name.

You see, I'm in charge of the Thanksgiving chain at our house.

I'm the one who cuts long, thin strips of golden copier paper, who hunts down the stapler and markers, who remembers the way November sneaks up so quickly after the Mardi Gras madness of Halloween. 

But there we were, seven, eight days in, paperless, stapler-less, thankless.

Leaving my son's room that night I knew that if we weren't giving thanks, it's because I wasn't feeling very thankful either.

*   *   *

The bible never talks about "feeling thankful" though, instead we're told to "be thankful."

There's a discipline to gratitude, a discipline to opening this doorway to grace, to leaving behind the tight, familiar circles of our own making.  Gratitude often doesn't come easy, isn't natural, especially in this life where we so often want and need More.

So we practice.

We bow our heads and pray it.

We write it, walk it, say it - out loud.

We practice opening this doorway to grace, precisely because it doesn't come naturally.

And in the practicing our lives are changed, stretched, opened wide.  The memory of the cage fades as we're remade into something new, as we too learn the art and beauty of running, leaping, bounding through wide, open fields.

*   *   *

The next night, downstairs in the dim bare-bulb light of our dining room, I rolled out a long stretch of transparent contact paper.  Taping it to the table to combat the curl, I told the kids to leave me alone, I was working on something, a surprise and they needed to wait.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of statement that sparks children's curiosity and they swarmed as I cut and taped strange shapes all across the table top.  Drawing with a brown permanent marker I made the outline of a sturdy winter tree, branches bare, reaching. 

Piece by piece we lifted and carried that tree.  Peeling the backing, we stuck it from the ground up, right onto the bare, white living room wall.

"What's it for? What are you making? What are we going to DO with it?" they cried, circling me, leaping and bounding like puppies eager for a treat.

"We're going to write the things we're thankful for on leaves and put them on the tree," I explained at last, cutting a few quick leaves from smaller pieces of contact paper.

Then I added, to my son who wasn't very thankful, "Solomon, go get the permanent markers." 

If there's one thing my son loves, it's permanent markers.  They're the Holy Grail of craft supplies at our house.  Standing on end in an old yogurt container on the kitchen counter, they're off-limits, used only by permission.  Second only to permanent markers on the craft supply hierarchy of a five year old boy, is contact paper.  To be allowed to use both at the same time, to make and stick as many leaves as he wanted, was surely something to be thankful for. 

Slowly, over the days and weeks, we're watching that tree grow full and green with gratitude, while the trees outside drop wave after wave of leaves.

We're growing new leaves in fall which, I guess is a little bit what gratitude is like, especially when it doesn't come easy.  The green buds and leaves of spring are no miracle, but these leaves, chosen in the face of winter, these leaves, surely, will give us shade in the days and weeks ahead. 

We're practicing gratitude together.  Practicing opening these doorways to grace, practicing running and leaping, laughing and loving, in these open fields of grace. 

This post is linked with Playdates with God.

The Little Birds That Leapt

Driving by the old house at night
the windows glow on every side,
a warm golden yellow.
My eyes well up
with yearning for home
and I wonder,

do the little birds
that leapt so freely
from their nests
feel a pang of longing
days, even weeks later,
as they go winging by?

This post is linked with Lisa Jo and the Five Minute Friday crowd on the prompt "fly." Click over to read more posts. To read more posts about our recent move, check out this link: Moving.

Yes to Every Moment In-Between

In the weeks before closing on the sale of our house we packed truck-loads full of everything deemed unnecessary and hauled them off to the basements of two close friends.  We didn’t know where we would be living or for how long, so the climbing wall went and the wood working tools, along with bin after bin of off-sized boys’ clothing. 

Maybe it was optimism that led me to send along a bag stuffed to overflowing with every hat, mitten and scarf we own.  Maybe it was denial.  I was sure we’d be settled and our possessions re-gathered before snow started to fly.

But this week, the temperatures turned.  Flurries floated by, hurried bits of white, rushed along by the wind, eliciting gasps of excitment from children far and wide.    

The long-waning fall let go its dwindling grip on the world and I waited with growing dread for the morning my son would ask for gloves before heading out the door to school.

I drove through the early darkness one evening, heading out of town to my friend’s house.  Rooting through their basement I dug out the sought-after bag along with a pair of shoes, a binder and a sermon I’d been hunting. 

It feels, to me, like another letting go, another surrender. 

Yes, we’ll be here for winter. 

Yes, we’re going to have to figure out a place to hang six coats or more. 

Yes, we’ll need to vacate a corner for a Christmas tree, here in this place where we never planned to be.

Reading a children’s bible with my son one morning, a short sentence giving instructions to Abraham and Sarah shimmered before me the way a poem does, giving words to felt experience,

“But now you must leave your house and live in a tent, ready to move on whenever I tell you to."

I’m not blind to the hubris of comparing ourselves to Abraham and Sarah, but isn’t this in a sense, what scripture asks us to do; to enter into our own adventure, our own “wild dancing” with our untamed God, taking solace and courage in these ancients who are at once both our guides and companions? 

Reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on the Practice of Getting Lost in An Altar in the World, her words stand as a strange and much needed affirmation, an invitation to embrace, yet again, the gifts of being lost and in-between,

I have decided to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and engage it as a spiritual practice instead . . . God does some of God’s best work with people who are truly, seriously lost.  Take Abraham and Sarah, for instance, the first parents of the Hebrew people.  The bible gives no reason for God’s choice of Abraham and Sarah except their willingness to get lost.  By saying yes – by consenting to get lost – they selected a family gene that would become dominant in years to come.

Abraham said "yes" to God.
'Yes,' we're saying, 'yes.' 

Yes to wandering and waiting,

yes to journey over destination, 

and yes to every moment in-between.     

This post is linked with Playdates with God.

The Kingdom of God is Like a Tree

What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches. Luke 13:18-19
The large, brown seed sat in our cupboard for a good month or more.  Sealed within a zip-loc bag, surrounded by moistened paper towels, it was my husband's experiment, the result of a moment of possibility. 
It seemed, at best, forgotten.
Then one day, after an Internet search for instructions, he planted it shallow in a white ceramic pot, watered it, and placed it on the window shelf. 
Something maternal in me must have kicked in then, because I watered it faithfully along with my violets and ivies.  I watered it too little, I watered it too much, and still, there it sat, half-buried, like a stone sleeping in the barren brown dirt. 
I couldn't tell you how long it took - weeks? months?
Watering, watching, waiting, forgetting to wait, while life stirred unnoticed within.
Then it split, cracked open down the middle and out curled a small green shoot, bent but rising, like a head bowed in prayer, now lifting.  
The kingdom of God is like this, Jesus said, and then later also, "the kingdom of God is within you."  
So maybe we too are these seeds, these trees planted and growing, seen and unseen in the midst of a busy and barren world.  We are watered, too much at times, or not, and the roots grow first, pressing down blindly like worms into the dirt. 
Then comes the cracking open, the split right down the middle of our lives, that sends forth the shoot.  And then it's all hungry drinking in of light and water as we too are grown into trees and the birds of the air - those lonely, wandering, homesick birds - make their nests in our branches.   
This post is linked with Five Minute Friday on the prompt "tree" although this did take a bit more than five minutes. Also linking with Imperfect Prose.

The Marooner's Stone

Wendy knew the story of Marooner's Rock. It was named by evil captains who abandoned sailors there. They would drown when the rising tide covered them.  

*   *   *

Soon after the dinghy was gone, two feeble cries drifted over the lagoon. "Help! Help!" Peter and Wendy lay on top of the rock. Peter was wounded, and Wendy was tired and weak. . . .

"We have to get off the rock," Peter said. "The tide is rising. Soon we will be covered."  

"I am too tired to swim or to fly," Wendy said weakly. 

"And I don't have the strength to carry both of us," Peter moaned.  

"Then we will drown," Wendy said.

They put their hands over their eyes to shut out the horrible thought.

Something touched Peter's cheek. He opened his eyes. A kite hovered over the rock. Its lone tail had brushed Peter's face. "Michael's kite!" Peter exclaimed. "He lost it the other day, but here it is!" He pulled the kite toward him. "We shall use it to carry us home."

                                                                                    - from Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

It's only Monday, but, already, I feel the water rising.

There’s too little time, too little money, too little of me to go around and I’m stacking sandbags in my mind, guarding against the scarcity of my own limitations.

There are days when it feels like I live on Marooners' Rock, days when it feels that the tide is constantly rising, slowly licking at the small space I've secured.

But at least I'm in good company, because so many of us live this way, don't we?

Believing the lie of too little, we hold our breath, shrinking back from the shrinking shore, moving from crisis to crisis as, surely, the water rises.

Like Peter and Wendy, we are tired, we are weak and many of us are wounded.

"We will drown," I say with certainty as I seal the envelopes that carry the checks to the electric company, the phone and natural gas.

"I am too tired," I say as I climb the stairs again to face the fussy child who will. not. sleep.

"I don't have the strength to carry both of us," I think, as I look at the long and weary face of my tired husband whose head aches nearly every night of the week.

Isn't it illuminating that deliverance for Peter and Wendy comes not in the form of increased strength or personal exertion, but rather in the playful and gentle nudge of Michael’s kite?   

Most often, when I grow weary of my self-imposed exile on Marooner’s Rock and finally, at last, lay my head down in surrender, grace and deliverance arrives disguised as the gentle voice of playfulness, the invitation to imagination and creativity.   

The more I tend playfulness through prayer and creativity, the more I’m able to reject the lie of Marooner’s Rock.  The truth is we're not abandoned, we're not alone, there's always Someone waiting to carry us home. 

Playfulness requires trust and surrender, a willingness to live openly and unabashedly hopeful in the sheer goodness of the moment and it’s here that we find deliverance, here that we find a wind strong enough, gentle enough to carry us home.

Is there a practice of playfulness or creativity that helps you find your way home?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments section . . .

This post is linked with Playdates With God. 

Like Corn in the Night

I grew in those seasons like corn in the night . . . Henry David Thoreau

“At two, they’ve grown to half of their full height,” they doctor tells us as our twin boys wriggle and squiggle through their annual appointment.  “It took them two years to grow this much and it will take them the next sixteen years to finish growing.” 
In two years they grew like flowers blossoming in a high-speed video, unfurling, stretching out and up toward the light.
Lying in their cribs at night, they're wrecked, passed out cold in the strangest positions, half-covered, while stuffed animals and binkies flung into the darkness lay scattered across the floor.   They sleep twelve hours a night and science tells us that their growth is fueled in part by this surrender to the long, dark night.
*   *   *
The natural world is slipping into darkness now , the last leaves are shaken from the trees with a stretch and a quavering yawn as life continues, quieted, in the deep, dark, subterranean layers of the earth.  Earlier and earlier every evening now, I walk the perimeter of our house switching on the lamps that push back the night.  Strategically placed in every corner, they stand tall and thin like toothpicks propping our eyelids open.  Outside the darkness grows, but the bright yellow eyes of our windows glow because we believe there is more to be done; we cannot rest, cannot embrace, willingly, the dark, still silence. 
Maybe we believe, as Parker Palmer suggests, that, “if we are not making noise,. . . nothing good is happening and something must be dying” (89).  We have lost the sense of the value of darkness, lost an awareness that there may be good and important things going on in it of which we are unaware. 
*   *   *
The butterfly in its cocoon, the cicada asleep in the belly of the world, the child in the womb, all of these and more rely on darkness; in waiting and surrender they're changed into what they will be.  Isn't it possible then that we too might grow in such a night? 

Perhaps we too are only half of what we have yet to become and so let us go, peacefully to our rest, while the great God who spun the night across the wide expanse of the sky, like silk, and who whirled the stars out wide in their orbits, works quietly within us to bring all things into completion.

This post is linked with Imperfect Prose and #TellHisStory.

Putting Things in Things

When my husband and I were first married we had a microwave that we kept in a cupboard in our kitchen.  It was a hefty old thing, brown and beige, with a large brown knob you turned to set the time.  It must have a weighed a good twenty pounds and was a big as a medium sized TV.  We kept it in the cupboard under the place on the counter where we used it and whoever pulled it out and plugged it in was responsible also for putting it back away.

Once in awhile one of us would ask the other, "Who left the microwave out?" 

*   *   *

At that same apartment that we had a cat who played happily with rubberbands before carrying them off and depositing them ceremoniously into the toilet.  String too, she loved, and grabbing a strand of my crocheting, she would run off to the bathroom, unwinding things as she went, dragging out a good twenty feet of yarn before she reached her destination.  Following the trail through the house we would find the end dangling, dripping, over the toilet seat. 

Once, when we accidentally left some Thanksgiving leftovers on the counter over night, the cat came along and found the zip-lock bag full of Turkey.  She must have played with and chewed on the bag for a good while before tossing it too into the toilet, where we found it floating the following morning.

The biggest problem with that cat, though, was that she loved to pee on the carpet and in the shower.  I wish she would've put that too in the toilet.

*   *   *

Later, a good ten years into our marriage, when we finally acquired a TV, we kept it in the attic and took it out on weekends or evenings for watching movies.  Back then we would watch two movies back-to-back before lugging the thing back upstairs to the attic crawl space.  Lugging it awkwardly up and down the stairs, my husband dropped it one time, breaking a large plastic piece off of the corner, but it still worked. 

We thought that by making TV inconvenient we would watch less, turns out we were just inconvenienced more often.

*   *   *

Where we now live, we have three refrigerators.  One is ours that we brought from the house we sold and the second is actually an upright deep freezer that we couldn't get to fit down the basement stairs.  The third is the fridge that came with the apartment.  All three stand clustered together in the kitchen. 

We have a lot of room for art work, which is good, because we have a lot of kids.

We kept the one unplugged and since our apartment lacks storage, I started storing things in the freezer - mostly paper goods and 2 lb cans of coffee. 

Since then, my husband brewed beer and plugged in the third refrigerator for storing his kegerator. 

So now our napkins and plates are nicely chilled. 

*   *   *
My husband took this picture over the weekend. 
Yes, that's a sneaker in the sink.  (questions about the quart of oil next to the sink should be directed at my husband)
*   *   *

This morning the twins played quietly upstairs for quite awhile while I cooked up chicken and sausage to store in the freezer. Their quiet made me nervously grateful and finally I decided it was time to check-in on what they were doing.  This is what I found:

They took the pile of laundry from the bathroom floor and stuffed it all into the toilet adding, also, the blankets from Levi's crib. 

*   *   *
A microwave in a cupboard.

String and rubberbands in the toilet.

A TV in the attic.

Paper plates in the freezer.

A shoe in the sink.

Laundry in the toilet. 

Putting Things in Things.

*   *   *

That is all.  


The Golden Tree

Near the park a block or so from our house, it stands – a  golden tree, its black spine and branches posing a stark contrast to the bright blue sky, the shimmering yellow cascade. 

Walking to pick-up my children from school one day, I pass under and look up – Glory! and down to the blanket of orange and yellow, covering the sidewalk.  I wade through with the stroller splitting the sea like Moses and when I pass by on the way home, four kids in tow, I tell them, “Wait until you see, the place with The Most Leaves.”
They’re doubtful, teasing, until they see it. 

Then the older two are off and running and the twins slip out of the double stroller like two slippery fish returning to the sea.  Soon they’re all splashing and diving, throwing up handfuls, gathering piles with rakes improvised from sticks. 
And I am standing there, wishing for a camera to capture it all. 
But these leaves are grace, spread deep over the sidewalk and curb, laying light on the ground, like manna.  I resist the urge to gather up more than can be stored and instead join in on the fun, the beauty, surrendering to the ocean of grace at our feet, the shimmering gold of the grace-filled present.
This post is linked with Five Minute Friday on the prompt "grace."  Click over to read more posts.

The Grouchy Ladybug (I Died a Hundred Deaths Last Halloween)

(This post originally appeared here last Halloween.  It's one of my favorites, so I thought I'd run it again this year.  Enjoy!)

It’s rainy and cold and we’re all keyed up and worn out from being trapped indoors for two days by Hurricane Sandy. I wake up, too late, and squeeze in a shower while my one-year-old twins, still in dirty diapers from the night before, wander around the living room. Their whining amplifies to full pitch as my shower cues them in to the possibility that I’ll be (gasp!) leaving for the morning. The preemptive separation anxiety continues through breakfast and packing everyone into the van to take my oldest to school.

After drop off I cart the remaining three kids back into the house. We mull around, waiting anxiously for the babysitter who'll be staying with the twins while the four year old and I head to his preschool's Halloween party at a local nursing home.  I have been dreading this event ever since the October calendar came home. 

The twins seem to relax and almost simultaneously my son's anxiety about the party rises.  Peppering me with questions, he asks, 
“Will there be people from the nursing home in the party?”
“Um, I’m not sure, honey.”

“Will they see me in my costume?”

“Are you going to dress up?”

“I don’t want to wear a costume.”

I've been “against” this party from day one and I know that my son, so robust and cheerful at home, will be shy and clingy in a new place. So like a Good Mother I plan to accompany him, despite my own teeth-clenching, foot-dragging antagonism toward it all.
“Solomon,” I say, “what if I wear a costume too?” I emerge from the back room wearing the fuzzy black antennae from my daughter’s ladybug costume.

“Ok,” he says, brightening, “you can be a black beetle.”
Then, I can feel myself giving in, letting go a little more as the idea strikes and I say, “What if I’m a ladybug? I can steal Sophia’s costume.”

He approves and I have just enough time to gather the red and black-dotted wings and my camera before the babysitter arrives and the oldest twin dissolves into a raging stream of tears. I run in circles grabbing things, carrying the littlest one and nearly run out the door with him, before the sitter stops me and grabs him saying, “This one’s staying.”
Then we’re off to a party I don’t want to go to, but also don’t want my son to miss. We drive through the rain and find his friends in a large room coloring at a table while elderly people in wheelchairs sit in a wide circle around them. The residents watch, their eyes hungrily absorbing the beauty and innocence, the luxury of so much youth in one small space.

My son is clingy, shy and tired, overwhelmed it seems, by the noise, the crafts, the games.  

I do my best to get into the spirit of things. 

I help with glue and tear bits of tissue paper, I assure a fretful child that it doesn’t matter where he puts the eyes on his pumpkin. I laugh with the other Moms over the resident who rides in on a wheelchair, pretending to scare the kids with a mask, all the while giving a growing peep show as his robe slides further and further open. I take a smiling picture with my son, a little Iron Man snuggled up on a ladybug's lap.
By the time we get home, though, I’m over-stimulated and frustrated at my inability to love Halloween, to love loud parties and candy. The twins are exhausted and hungry when we walk in and they’re drawn to me like magnets, pressing their tiny bodies onto me in desperation. It’s all I can do to untangle myself, causing more tears and desperation, as I head to the kitchen to make lunch. Solomon is sorting and dumping candy, dancing and singing and blowing the whistle from his party bag and the twins are screaming in their highchairs, desperate to make it clear how deeply my absence has wronged them.

Then I’m yelling, “Stop it” as I throw an apple-peel all the way across the kitchen.  It bounces off of one twin and they both sit staring, shocked into silence and my son, that sweet four year old boy, offers to play his whistle to settle them down.
*   *   *
There are days when being a mother feels like dying a hundred tiny deaths. A hundred letting-gos, a thousand surrenders to more noise, more movement, more demands than I feel capable of handling.  I’m not complaining, I simply want to be honest about the stretch of motherhood and how quickly, how fiercely, I shrink back from it.

I died a hundred little deaths this morning and will surely die a hundred more before nightfall on this, the day of the dead. But I know, thank God, that this dying, this surrender, makes me new again. I may die a hundred times a day, but I'm just as often made new, reborn in the face of a chubby, gap-toothed grin, a gentle hand seeking mine for reassurance. Just today I was resurrected by the voice of my son calling cheerfully from the back of the van as we made our way home, “I can’t wait to be old so I can go to the nursing home to live.”
*    *   *
Later in the day as I'm making chili for friends who're coming to trick-or-treat with us and the twins again stand whining at the gate that divides them from me, my Dad calls.   He wants me to know that my maternal grandmother has died in the nursing home where she's lived for years now in North Carolina.  
As I stand over the stove, stirring the chili, I find myself surprisingly grateful. 
Grateful that, though I couldn't be there with her, I was here, at a nursing home with my son, the very same morning. I think of my Grandmother's life and the many little and big deaths she endured. I think of the ways I get so focused on what I'm giving up, that I nearly miss what I have right here, right now in front of me. It occurs to me that I live such a grace-filled life, full of opportunities for surrender, continually pressing me toward the edge. 
*   *   * 
The chili's done, waiting in a pot on the stove and everyone's home.  I sit in the living room during the brief lull before company and costumes and the poor older twin, who just can't pull himself together, sits crying on the floor. 
I scoop him up in my arms, settle in the rocker and watch as he drifts into a heavy sleep.   I love the moment, the rocking, the slow, calm hum of a sleeping child. 
He stirs briefly and lifts his head, looking around in confusion before throwing up all over both of us.  Then he leans forward, laying his head back on my chest with that pile of warm, smelly goo laying like a layer of glue between us.   I died and rose again in that moment, hugging him tight until my husband came to help us both get cleaned up. 
*   *   * 
Every day of the dead, every Halloween, gives way to all saints day and I wonder if we too, dying in our little and big ways, aren't also being moved, continually, from death to new life. This dying is a surrender, a stripping bare by letting-go until all that remains is love.